Michael Murphy is a regular columnist on BoomerWarrior. In this article, he raises fundamental and essential questions about the role of humanity on Planet Earth (Editor ~ RMontpellier).
You don’t hear this question asked often enough. And yet, the way we live our modern lives gives an unfortunate answer by default. Here’s the question – does the natural world exist in order to be used as desired by humans?
If the world is simply a storehouse of resources for our taking, then our cruel treatment of wild animals is OK. This includes our escalating elephant massacre, in the name of the ivory trade. See a new NY Times commentary. It also gives Japan a free pass for its continuing mass slaughter of dolphins at Taiji, despite that Oscar-winning undercover documentary. And hey, the ongoing shark slaughter – we need that shark fin soup, right? – is after all, just hunting despised predators. And the vile bear bile harvest industry is only exploiting a product from some dumb beasts (though the “dumb” beasts seem to be taking action against the practice).
Then there are the abuses in our factory agriculture. Ham sandwich anyone? But these are OK if we are free to exploit at will, as are the genetically engineered weed-resistant crops being forced by the likes of Monsanto – which are fingered as the chief culprit (aided by habitat destruction) in a shocking decline in the monarch butterfly population. Learn more about the monarchs here.
But it’s funny – no matter how much we think we own the place, and anything that we do in the name of human well-being, (damn the natural world is OK), nature has a way of outsmarting us. Witness the weeds that are coming back to trump our “magic.”
If our answer to that question is that human needs and wants always trump natural systems, then I suggest that we are paving the way to a world without us. It won’t be this year, this decade, or even this century, but if we continue our wanton disregard for natural systems, we are threatening our own extinction along with the wave of species extinction we have already unleashed.
The Earth and evolution have provided wonderful opportunities for humanity that we have all-too-well exploited. The earth and everything in it are not for us to exploit, but to protect. After all, we have no choice but to take on the role of stewards that our relentless interference has imposed on us. In the words of Colin Powell in advising President W before the latter invaded Iraq, “You break it, you own it.”
Worthy organizations are struggling to protect what is left of the natural world. Here are some of the most deserving – World Wildlife Fund; Sea Shepherd; National Wildlife Federation; Wildlife Conservation Society.
Mass Baby Production – for Better or Worse
I have to hand it to this Star Tribune commentator. In a clever opinion piece, he lays his case for continued population growth. It is entertaining, a bit snarky, and of course misguided. It is just more of the old-line thinking that says there can be no real change; the only way forward is an ever-growing population, with sufficient numbers of younger people in order to take care of the older people. And it glorifies mass baby production, like this organization does.
This thinking pays no attention to the real-world notion of a finite planet with exhaustible resources. Commentator Mike Adams takes aim at the most ridiculous extreme of this sort of thinking – the (sadly) oft-heard right-wing notion that the earth could actually accommodate more people. This extreme thinking basically goes this way – the physical space required by people’s bodies is nowhere near filled to Bangladesh- like levels, so don’t talk about overpopulation. This commentary was shared by our friends at Growthbusters – who are dedicated to rational population policy. Other groups working toward that end are World Population Balance, Population Matters and Population Connection.
Preparing (or not) for a Harsh Future
For those who are not shoving their heads under the sand or other dark places, tracing the trends in man-made climate change is a grim enterprise. Here are two stories on just that. First, a look at how the fantasy of the far north will become a short-order breadbasket is just that – a fantasy. And at the opposite end of the spectrum we have Phoenix – a technologically marvelous oasis in the desert, but for how long?
Decision Time Looms
With considerable justification, environmental activist Bill McKibben, author of many books including Eaarth, has made stopping the Keystone XL pipeline his main quest. His 350.org group was the driving force behind last month’s big Washington rally. And yet, for some, the debate has been subverted by the notion that the biggest question on Keystone is the safety of transporting the bitumen. Yes, it does behave differently in pipelines, and if spilled it has additional dangers in that it does not float the way purer oil does, but sinks to the bottom – making cleanup nigh impossible. That’s the thinking behind the Nebraska governor (Pilate-like) moving the planned pipeline route away from the Ogallala Aquifer.
Those water concerns, while serious, pale in comparison to the overall effects on the climate. Producing that stuff uses dramatically more carbon-based fuel, plus water, in the process, not to mention the fact that vital boreal forest land is replaced by a strip-mined wasteland. Then there are the vast tailing pools, a lingering hazard to wildlife that have somehow survived. Get the big picture here.
In spite of all that, stars appear to be lining up for approval. A recent State Department environmental study gave it an effective free pass. But the more we learn about that study, the more it resembles the same old fox-in-the-henhouse approach. The epic impact of tar sands oil is exactly the focus of this well-researched William Boardman blog post. And I made a major resource discovery just this week that I want to share. NPR’s Alex Chadwick oversees a terrific radio show and web site – Burn, an Energy Journal. I love the irony of this post’s title: On super-highway to climate catastrophe, a demand for full tanks. The site is full of resources, and I highly recommend it.
Get the Money Out! But How?
It’s no secret. No matter what issue you analyze and trace to its source, it all comes down to money. That is, the money that rules our political system. I have long maintained that any progress on government of, for and by the people will be limited without a major change in the corporate control of politics. Democracy Now hosted an interesting segment, a debate of sorts, between two allies who have contrasting ideas on the best way to pursue that laudable goal. John Bonifaz, of Free Speech for People, is working on a national effort to amend the US Constitution to destroy corporate personhood (which was supercharged by the Citizens United Supreme Court decision). Mark Schmitt, of the Roosevelt Institute, opposes the amendment effort, but supports other paths to campaign finance reform. Watch the discussion and see what you think.
Michael Murphy is a regular contributor on BoomerWarrior. He is an advocate for Economic and Environmental Sustainability. At IBI Watch, Michael says “that my favorite issues live where science meets policy…climate change, evolution, and environmental protection… I hope you will find the connections I provide informative and thought-provoking.”
You can also find Michael on Facebook.